Monday, December 23, 2013

Summiting the Rock for the fourth time

The Brazen Summit Rock Half Marathon is an interesting race. It's an out-and-back course where you spend the first three miles slogging up a hill, the next seven miles wandering along the ridge top (with a bonus trip to a valley just to add some more climbing), and then the last three miles heading back down that hill you slogged up a long time ago.

It's a pretty tough race largely on single-track trails that have many rocks and roots to keep you on your toes - twisted ankles are extremely common here due to the combination of trying to fly down that last three mile hill and the gnarly switchbacks.

One challenge of the course is the congestion that can occur, especially once the faster 10K runners hit their turnaround and start steaming down the hill that is full of Half, 10K, and 5K runners all still coming up the hill. I chose to avoid this issue this year by doing the early start, which meant I was well past the 10K turnaround point before any of the faster runners caught up to me.

Photo by Brazen volunteer near the 10K turnaround. Mrs Notthat (who did not do the early start) has moved to her right for the 10K runner that's heading back down.
Additionally, I was determined to reverse an disturbing trend I had established with my finish times:

2010: 3:04
2011: 3:29
2012: 3:55

My finish times have been dramatically increasing each year - I have no explanation for that other than I'm getting slower. This would be the year I would buck that trend. Maybe.

Mr Brazen getting ready to send us early starters out.
There were 14 of us taking advantage of the early start. The sun was not quite up yet and it was pretty cold, but we had the trails mostly to ourselves.

Seriously - it was cold out! (I know those of you in frostbitten states are busy rolling your eyes, but for the Bay Area, this is cold.)

A little past 1.5 miles we hit our first aid station, which was also the 5K turnaround. I forgot to ask how they got that vehicle up there - it certainly did not go up the trails we just ran up.

This has got to be the wimpiest "tree blocking the trail" that I've ever seen.

About the last mile up the hill to the 10K turnaround had very recently been attacked by a small bulldozer. In time this might turn out to be a good thing, but for this race, this stretch of trail was not much fun. The dirt was soft with many hidden rocks and roots - it was better when we came back through here later after all the 10K and proper Half runners had trampled the soft dirt down a bit.

Possibly related to this was that there were some wasp issues - a number of runners reported getting stung between the first and second aid station. I had no issues heading out, but coming back a bee landed on my neck that I was able to swat away before it could do any damage.

At a bit over 3 miles we were at the second aid station, and the 10K turnaround. I was thrilled to have made it this far without being passed by a fast Half or 10K runner.

Nhoj, not his real name, wore gloves to help with the cold. Sheesh.
I made it to about mile 5 before I got passed by the lead Half runners. (I had a one hour head start on them, but had hiked up that hill - any runners that were able to run up that hill would quickly catch me, and they did.)

Weird Haired Mom was also part of the early start. I had caught up to her at the first aid station, but she then took off. At this point she had already hit the turnaround at mile 6.55 and was flying back, about a mile ahead of me.

Yes, he really thought there was a danger I would fail to stop and turnaround. HA!
Eventually even I made it to the Half turnaround, mile 6.55, and the third aid station. I had been passed by only 20 or so Half runners by this point, so I would get to see the bulk of them as I headed back.

"Gimmie your GUs and nobody gets hurt."
As mentioned earlier, while going along the ridge, which has mild rolling hills, there is a bonus trip to a valley that adds a significant amount of climbing. There is a bypass to the valley that, if you missed the turn, would greatly ease your race. So there were volunteers to make sure that you didn't miss that turn and rob yourself of the bonus climbing.

Mrs Notthat being really fast and perky. 
One fear I had was that Mrs Notthat would catch me. When I saw her at this point, I knew I was in a bit of danger, since from here the course is more downhill than uphill, and she rocks the downhill.

I picked up my pace a bit.

Eiram, not her real name, at the junction signaling the end of the bonus climbing.

These aren't really the Summit Rocks (you have to veer off-course a bit to see them), but I think they're good enough to get at least partial credit.

It was great to make it back to that second aid station (now the fourth aid station, mile 10), mostly because it meant the rest of the race was downhill.

Picture by Brazen volunteer at that aid station.

Knowing that Mrs Notthat could show up at any time, I pushed it a bit down that hill and made it to the first aid station, now the fifth one at mile 11.5, very quickly (for me). Only a mile and a half to go!

Totally unexpectedly I managed to catch up to Ainigriv (not her real name) a bit after that aid station. I never beat her at these races (she had also used the early start) and figured she must have been really hurting (she was).

Yes, that's frost still on the trail.
I think I was ahead of her for maybe a quarter of a mile before she flew past me. (It does not look good to get beaten by me, and I've seen many runners do heroic things just to make sure that doesn't happen.)

The finish line. And I had managed to knock 7 minutes off my finish time from last year, so my main mission was accomplished. Barely.

I then went out a bit to catch Mrs Notthat as she raced towards the finish line.

It wasn't long before she flew past me.

Picture by Brazen volunteer Ecinreb (not her real name). Note how far back I am. That kid has a great finish line kick!
Picture by Brazen volunteer Ecinreb. Somebody was happy to be done.
Weird Haired Mom (who beat me handily), Mrs Notthat, and I all ready for ice cream! Really!

This was my first time out with my new Anton vest with the boob bottles. I had been really curious about these vests and finally decided to give one a try. I liked it a lot, although once I put my sweatshirt on the back, the bottles would gradually edge their way up towards my neck. The other thing I noticed was that I could really hear the water sloshing around in the bottles more than when I carried them on my waist. And lastly, I lost count of the number of times I would grab a bottle, take a drink, and try to put it back into my belt. Old habits die hard.

Mrs Notthat fainted when she found out she had won second place in her age group (and had beaten one other!).

Picture by Brazen volunteer Ecinreb, again. Once we stopped moving, it got really cold again.

The trails at this race are some of the best around. There aren't many expansive views, but I love spending all that time in the dense woods. The early start is a great way to avoid the only real issue with this race - the congestion near the 10K turnaround.

Another way is to be really fast. That way is not on my radar for the near future.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Would the Quarry Turkey be DLF again?

Warning: For those of you with weak stomachs or strong ties to PETA, this post contains a picture of a headless turkey. The management of this blog would like to apologize in advance, however, the management also realizes that if we apologized for every questionable thing that showed up on these posts we would have little time left for thinking up questionable things to put in here. And that would be sad.

Mrs Notthat and I were unable to run the traditional Brazen Thanksgiving Day run at Point Pinole, so running the Quarry Turkey race on Saturday had lost a tiny bit of luster since that meant we wouldn't get the coveted bonus medal given when you run both races.

But there was still plenty of luster to get us up and out to Quarry Lakes. I was still hobbling a bit from the previous weekend, so I signed up for the 10K, while Mrs Notthat was not even vaguely hobbling and signed up for the Half Marathon.

The most fun thing about these two races are the kid's races, where a bunch of kids, vibrating with pent up energy and possibly a tiny bit of sugar, are eager to try to beat the historically inept Brazen Turkey on a short course. Each kid gets a goody bag and a medal (in addition to the bibs). These brave, smiling volunteers, assigned to hand out the medals and goody bags, had no idea what was about to hit them.

I love the mother in blue desperately trying to get out of the way of the crush of stampeding kids. She made it, but not by much.
The kid's race is technically over when they pass back under the arch, but the first set of kids that came through chose to race all the way to the medal volunteers.

There was a brief bit of mayhem while the kids got their medals and posed for pictures. And apparently, once again, the Brazen Turkey failed to beat even a single toddler.

Weird Haired Mom and Mrs Notthat coordinated their outfits for the race. WHM, who was also recovering from last weekend, wisely chose to volunteer instead of running.

I headed about 100 yards out onto the course to take pictures of the Half runners starting out. The Endorphin Dude, who was shooting for a Half PR, was looking his normal, slightly deranged self at that point. Hold that thought.

As promised, the headless turkey. Apparently hydration was an issue and played a part in why the turkey was the DLF  (Dead Last Finisher). Again.

It turned out that my arch-nemesis was also running the 10K. She typically whips me at longer distances, but at shorter ones I have a chance. I passed her at about 1.5 miles in but that might just be because I went out too fast. ("Went out too fast." I crack myself up!)

The first aid station was at about 1.8 miles in. The cool thing was that they had pumpkin pie. Apparently not many runners were grabbing any since they were thrilled I took a piece.

Photo by Brazen volunteer. I'm showing him my pie.
Chris Bliss showing the International Running Signal for "Don't go any further!"
After that aid station you head up to the somewhat boring bit of the course that is an out-and-back. Once you reach the second aid station, about mile 3.4, the 10K runners turn around and head back.

Volunteer Nad, not his real name, making sure nobody missed the turn.
Someone, in an effort to try to make the somewhat boring bit of the course a bit more exciting, went out and rubbed out all the flour markings along that bit of trail. This is actually a fair amount of work to do, and I have to give the person credit for their effort, but I would still not hesitate to cause them great pain for purposely trying to vandalize the race.

(The ribbons were still up, but I don't know if they were a second set that had been added that morning or not.)

At about mile 4.8 I was back at that second aid station, and ready for another piece of pie.

Divad (not his real name) brought his flag today and intended to hike it around the course. Oel (not his real name either) somehow wrestled the flag from Divad and ended up walking it around the course. (Oel is fighting a painful foot thing or else he would have been busy flying around the course. His squeeze, Ainigriv - not her real name - was noble and stayed with him. Until near the end when she realized that for the first time, she would be able to beat him. And she did.)

Before I knew it, I was done. After 50 miles and over 22 hours last weekend, this 10K was a tiny blip.  I was able to run better than I had expected and finished a bit faster than expected, but it was not a PR.

Right after I finished, I went back out a bit to cheer in the other runners. My arch-nemesis was not far behind me, but what counts is that I BEAT HER!

Somebody let a dang hippie on the course. 

One of the touching moments; the green guy is Lenra (not his real name), a ridiculously fast runner. Next to him is his dad. I took this picture - it was so neat to see them together - then dad says "Lenra (not your real name), your shoe's untied." Lenra looked down and dad sprinted for the finish.

And then there was The Endorphin Dude. Remember how perky and fun he looked at the start? That was all gone now - he was in Beast Mode trying to nail that PR. I had never seen him like this before so it was a bit of a shock, but he did it - he got that PR and went back to good old goofy ED after the finish.

But what about Mrs Notthat?

Photo by Brazen volunteer. 
Mrs Notthat was doing fine. Above you see her cruising with Ahtreb (not her real name) up on the boring bit.

I got this picture of her as she dashed along the lake shore before climbing the hill to the finish. She didn't set a PR, but did very well. Oddly, this is not an easy course for either of us since it is so flat and tends to work out better for road runners.

Photo by Ettedanreb. Goofy face by me.
The one surprising thing was that I ended up getting second in my age group. The really astounding thing was that I beat two others - one by a whole eleven seconds.* And yes, I was difficult to live with for a bit.

And that's about it. It was quite cold at the start, and not much warmer by the finish. But it was a lot of fun with a huge turnout. (One change was that the parking fee was included in the race fee, which had the glorious result of no line at the entrance!)

It was great to see so many friends (and a hippie) out on the trails.

But somebody needs to introduce that turkey to a gym, or at least caffeine.

That's it - move along…

* A thing that will likely only amuse me, but the guy I beat by eleven seconds actually finished before me. The difference was that I did my normal back of the pack start, and he was somewhere towards the front, so he crossed the start line nearly 30 seconds before me. So I beat him by chip time, but not gun time. Fortunately chip time is used for awards like this.

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.